Central Ljubljana, Slovenia. I am sitting on one of the two single bunk beds in a spartan jail cell, peering out through a thickly barred metal door – the sort you see on TV prison shows. The kind with the slot to allow the prison guard to pass your food through.
My first floor cell, number 108, features whitewashed walls and a heavily-barred window open to the warm summer evening. Luckily there’s a fan because Europe is in the throes of a heatwave.
This is my first prison stay. Ever. Luckily it is at the cool and funky Hostel Celica, a former jail for political dissidents, reincarnated into a hip hostel.
The building, more than 130 years old, was rescued from demolition by the local arts community. Both local and international artists placed their creative stamp on the rooms. Some cells, like the blue cell pictured above, feature wall murals. As well as a variety of cells of different sleeping configurations, the hostel has dormitories and rooms with ensuites which are popular with friends sharing and young families. Metal-backed wooden doors, each carrying the name of famous past inmates, close over the prison cell doors at night, ensuring privacy.
From under my cell window on my second night come the sounds of a classical violin being superbly played in a scheduled concert. This is followed by a medley of other music, luring me downstairs. Some young female guests decide to perform an impromptu duet, slightly off-key, but to eager applause. It is a typical night at the colourful Hostel Celica (pronounced Celitza).
Downstairs there are a variety of eating/meeting/drinking areas. In the Slovenian tavern or gostilna there’s Slovenian honey brandy and pizza is on offer in the café. Other inmates are meeting up with friends in the outdoor lounge area.
As the hostel tosses in breakfast and internet access, it is great value for its central location, just a short walk to the town’s historic centre, cafe area and Castle, and 10 minutes walk to Ljubljana station.